The 1997-98 Denver concert-promotion war has led to a handful of casualties: For instance, booker Jeff Krump lost his position at Jacor Concerts when the folks at Jacor's radio wing decided to shrink the size of the financially tentative operation (Feedback, October 1). At the same time, however, another new combatant--Bill Graham Presents/Chuck Morris Presents--has emerged from the field of battle stronger than it was when the scrap began. During an interview that appeared in the January 22 edition of this column, Chuck Morris, a longtime area promoter and manager, described the newly formed company as a "boutique" establishment that would likely put on between ten and twenty major concerts during its first twelve months in business--but that's not the way things turned out. By year's end, BGP/CMP will have staged nearly fifty events at a variety of venues, and Morris recently announced that the operation has signed an agreement making it the primary booker at World Arena in Colorado Springs.
Most Denverites aren't familiar with World Arena, a sports and entertainment complex that seats around 9,000 folks, but Morris doesn't mind. He expects that the shows he stages there will be patronized almost entirely by those living in the Colorado Springs metropolitan area and points south. "In the old days, it was hard for bands to do Denver and Colorado Springs back-to-back," he says. "The shows would end up hurting each other. But Colorado Springs has gone through this unbelievable explosion in growth, and all of us believe that it's now a market that can support itself. That's why we're using a ticketing agency [Colorado Neighborhood Box Office] that doesn't even sell tickets in Denver. It only goes as far north as Castle Rock."
So why should Denver residents care about this pact? In Morris's opinion, the chance to do two sizable concerts in Colorado rather than only one may convince acts that might otherwise have skipped the state to reconsider. "If you know anything about concert routing, you know that Denver sometimes is very isolated," he says. "There's not much very close to it. But this gives bands a chance to double up without having to travel very far--which is the same thing that happened with Sacramento. Bands always resisted playing there and in San Francisco, because the San Francisco show would always suffer. But Sacramento has gotten so much bigger that now bands play both of them all the time. And that's been good for everyone."
Some observers dispute this rosy assessment, citing as evidence a pair of Aerosmith dates in April--one at World Arena that sold out, and another at McNichols Arena that fell well short of capacity. But Morris feels that drawing conclusions from this example would be foolish given that his outfit promoted the Colorado Springs date and Universal Concerts handled the engagement at McNichols. "I'm not going to comment on anyone else's promoting ability," he says, "but if you look at the grosses around the country, the Denver date was one of the weakest."
Morris expects to bring between 12 and 25 concerts per annum to World Arena, including a December 8 appearance featuring the latest version of Journey. "It's a really unique market there," he allows. "They've got a huge audience for Christian music--we just did really well there with Michael W. Smith--but there's also a big following for hard rock because of KILO, which has been a prominent heavy-rock station for twenty years. It crosses a lot of boundaries."
So, too, does Morris, who also heads a management house, Chuck Morris Enterprises. Just hired to fill a vacancy in the latter left by the departure of veteran wheeler-dealer Mark Bliesener (Feedback, August 13) is Matt Hickey, who's worked for the past four years with the Chicago-based concern that oversees the career of the alt-country combo Wilco. "He's also managed Blue Mountain for a long time, and as soon as he gets here, they'll be coming under our umbrella," Morris says. "And we've also signed the Radiators" to a lineup that includes Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leftover Salmon and Leo Kottke.
In other words, 1998 has been very, very good to Morris. "We're putting together a great team," he notes. "And frankly, we're doing better than I thought we would. I'm having more fun than I've had in years. I feel like I've been born again."
Kirwan Brown might say the same. The talented bassist left Opie Gone Bad under melodramatic circumstances (Feedback, February 19), turning up a short time later in New York. But after only a month in the City That Never Sleeps, Brown relocated to Dallas, and since then, he and a friend, pianist Pete Drungle, have gotten involved in a pair of intriguing projects: the latest groups led by Jimi Tunnell, former guitarist of Steps Ahead, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, a onetime Ornette Coleman sideman who released several of the best jazz albums of the Eighties. (If you can find copies of Nasty, Mandance, Barbecue Dog and Decode Yourself, all recorded between 1981 and 1985 with a band known as the Decoding Society, purchase them immediately.)
Tunnell, who's also toured with the Brecker Brothers and the Zawinul Syndicate (fronted by Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul), calls his ensemble the Trilateral Commission, and Brown is happy to be a part of it. But he's most effusive when quizzed about his association with Jackson. "We're working on all-new material," he reveals, "and he uses the harmolodic method that he learned when he was in Ornette's Prime Time. It's a difficult thing to analyze, but suffice it to say that it's melody-centered, and the melody itself implies the harmony and the rhythm. And he's amazing with melodies. There are stacks of them everywhere in his house, each with its own title and its own notation--and if you ask him to sing one, he can do it from memory. It's really a fascinating thing."
At this point, Jackson doesn't have a domestic record contract, but he remains popular in Europe: He recently performed at a festival in Warsaw, Poland, alongside previous collaborators such as Bill Laswell. He's looking forward to touring the Old Country during the first half of next year and may visit a number of U.S. cities as well--and Brown is hoping that Denver will be among them. Until then, he's keeping busy doing studio work and praising any and all higher powers for helping him to find his feet again. "When I got to New York, I was still very much in the healing process because of what had happened with Opie," he says. "And it was a hard seven or eight months after that. But I've grown, and the playing experiences I've had here have been fabulous."
Mind if I kick a few pebbles out of my mountain of local releases awaiting review?
Iron Feather's Choonz and Warez, issued under the auspices of Steven Prothero (the indefatigable publisher of Iron Feather Journal, a noteworthy Boulder 'zine), is an impressive and nicely varied double-CD compilation of electronic music and assorted oddities, much of it made by Coloradans. Denver DJ John Chamie is associated with "Liquid Loops," by Agent Babylon, and "Nickleplated," by the Vandal; the city's 69 Valentine offers up the enticing "Circular Rationale"; DJ Hendy, another area resident, excels on "Bhong" and "Moose Juice"; and Deadly Buda, Feral, Multicast, Lorien and past Westword profile subjects pH-10 and Hell's Half Acre make strong contributions. Add in tracks by dance-world heavyweights like the Black Dog and you've got a lot of interesting music in one convenient package (Iron Feather Label, P.O. Box 1905, Boulder, CO 80306). Although Worm Trouble's self-titled CD isn't a consistently enchanting effort, it features quite a few interesting flashes. "Turtle Song," an attempt at a dark nursery rhyme, missed the mark by a wide margin for me, and several tunes (such as "My Own Face") are pleasant without quite making it all the way to memorable. But "Winner" is one--and there are other victors as well. Michael Trenhaile, formerly of Body of Souls, croons like Utopia-era Todd Rundgren on "Run," and his harmony singing with Kathryn Ellinger and Carrie Beeder on "Commerce" suggests a folkier Alice in Chains. Not there yet, but on the right track (Slug Records, P.O. Box 9290, Denver, CO 80209).
Specimen is a jazz band in the Fat Mama mold--meaning that its members know that "fusion" isn't always a dirty word. The group's self-titled demo includes "Intro," a multi-hued effort highlighted by Mark Hanson's saxophone; "Happy Dance," accented by a scarifying guitar duel involving Hanson and Adam Levine; and "Abgba," which touches on don't-bogart-that-joint jamming without being defined by it. Some promise here (Plug Publicity, 303-543-8447). Amanda's Waiting is a New York band that features longtime Denverite Wendy Flitter on cello. The group's CD, Amanda's Waiting, finds the musicians at the intersection of modern rock and Scandal. Honestly, lead vocalist Minx sounds more like Patty Smyth on guitar rockers such as "Pretty Good for a Good Girl" and "Sparrow" ("She couldn't wait any longer/ Sparrow must fly!") than Patty Smyth might. Time seems to have passed by the combo's approach, but that could change: After all, even disco made a comeback. But I think I'll wait for another bus, thank you (Amanda's Waiting, P.O. Box 2419, New York, NY 10108).
Birth, credited to Melissa Michaels and Friends, is advertised as "a moving journey from the longing of the spirit to the ecstasy of the ordinary." If that sounds snooty as all get-out, well, it is: For instance, the nearly 24 minutes' worth of "Conception: Embracing New Life" is broken into six segments titled (I swear) "Egg," "Egging," "Sperm," "Union," "Rejoice" and "Spirit." But Michaels's fine team of collaborators--Mark Fuller, Mark McCoin, Mike Vargas and Beth Quist are among them--manage for the most part to translate Michaels's high-flown notions into a likably percussive Thirld World soundscape. "Welcoming Life," the celebratory conclusion, is more than a bit trite, but a majority of other tracks provide pleasant background music that skirts the edges of the new age without toppling into it entirely (Wild Life Productions, 2888 Bluff Street #252, Boulder 80301). On Midnight Sun, Katz Romero and several noteworthies on the Denver jazz scene (such as Eric Gunnison, Billy Tolles and Ron Miles) tackle a selection of standards from the pens of the usual suspects: Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and so on. Romero has a full-bodied voice that strains for neither high notes nor low, and the playing is impeccable; I particularly enjoyed Tolles's sax workout on "Your Mother's Son-in-Law." But there's little to differentiate these versions from thousands of others that have been heard for decades in jazz lounges coast to coast. Solid but familiar (Paris Kitten Productions, P.O. Box 18788, Denver, CO 80218).
The Dogs in the Yard disc Sunday Afternoon spends most of its time in the middle of the rock road. "Wasted Time," "Hurricane" and "Gravity" feature clean guitar lines of the sort youngsters associate with Toad the Wet Sprocket and their elders remember from Sniff 'n' the Tears, while "Stop Wishing" contains sweet crooning and overtly sincere lyrics ("I had to show you what was in my heart/And let you see inside my head/Iopened up the window, let the warm sun come in") that aren't that far removed from Loggins & Messina. KBCO listeners are apt to salivate at the combination. As for me, I'd probably change the station (Dogs in the Yard, P.O. Box 1795, Idaho Springs 80452). The full-length cassette Between Here & Nowhere finds its maker, Keith Hanson, delivering Seventies-style power-pop like a one-man Raspberries (the guitarist/ bassist/keyboardist/drummer is the only performer on the tape). His cover of the Buddy Holly favorite "Oh, Boy!" is not terribly inspired, but the wide-eyed raveups "Politician Man" and "High School Camelot" are infectious, and the ballad "Eternally" makes an impact by virtue of its unimpeachable sincerity and Hanson's multi-tracked (and nicely nasal) vocals. The production is a little raw, but it doesn't mask this guy's charms (Keith Hanson, 7565 Zuni Street, #B211, Denver 80221).
Westturd '98, by Buzz Bomber and the M-80s (who called it quits in late October), is a needle aimed straight at the publication you're reading: The recording captures for posterity a show broadcast live by KRRF-AM/1280 (Ralph) on September 20--the night of the fourth annual Westword Music Awards Showcase (poor Buzz was not a nominee). The disc stands out for its lovely graphics (the Westword logo gets satirized) and its hideous production values. Buzz has got a swell sense of humor, as witnessed by his ludicrous version of the theme to The Banana Splits and "Beating Up My Best Friend," a rewrite of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" that targets Jerry Springer. But it's doubtful that most folks will stick around long enough to enjoy it, because this is the worst-sounding CD I've ever heard. Betcha Buzz takes that as a compliment (FUH-Q Records, 1820 15th Street, Suite C, Denver 80202). Nod66's demo--or Daemonstration, as it's called--doesn't sound much better than the Bomber's effort: In order to hear it, I had to turn up the volume on my boom box so loud that the band seemed to be accompanied by a nest of hissing vipers. As near as I could tell, the group specializes in strummy acoustic rock and throwback glam (like "Heroine Dreams," which nicks early David Bowie) that's okay without being much better than that. But given the tape's sonics, I can't really be sure (303-623-8161).
Cosmic Pond, a part of the Alley Records family, gets hippie-dippy on its self-titled CD. "Cosmic Healing," the opening track, goes on for nearly eight minutes and includes Jefferson Airplane harmonies, an overtly psychedelic guitar solo and lyrics like "In the night/The love light shining bright/Pick it up, man/Pass it around." Inhale at your own risk. The San Francisco-in-the-Sixties vibe works on occasion--"Dyin' to Love You" and "Elmo Mosquito" are hook-filled opuses that sound like the second coming of It's a Beautiful Day--and the fact that this particular shtick isn't being done to death these days provides a little paradoxical freshness. But Cosmic Pond's impressions are so precise (and so generally loopy) that I would have thought I was experiencing an acid flashback had I ever taken acid in the first place (the disc is available in area record stores). Blow Up the Spot, Volume One is a project tied to the Spot, an Denver urban-youth center about which you may have read in these pages. But the album isn't merely a good cause on disc, the equivalent of those inedible candy bars that students sell to raise funds for new soccer uniforms. Rather, it's a new-talent showcase in which some verifiably new talent participates. "Keep 'em Open," by Problemchild, is a hip-hop effort that works despite thin production, Leshay's "Forever Be My Love" is a showy smooch number, and BLK MSamERIKA's "Honey Coated" has a pleasantly seductive edge. If you buy the CD, do yourself a favor and actually listen to it (Inner Places Inc., 2100 Stout Street, Denver, CO 80205).
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Westminster's Colorado Sound Recording Studios recently played host to Steve Miller, who recut portions of his Seventies smash "Fly Like an Eagle" for use in a campaign for the United States Postal Service. The result has got to be one of the most bizarre marriages of pop music and advertising ever--and that's saying something. After all, the lyrics of "Eagle" include a litany of social demands ("House the people/Living in the streets") and a hook line that urges listeners to "fly to the revolution." Now, let me ask you: Do people who work at post offices need any more reasons to revolt than they've already got?
At least they didn't use "Take the Money and Run." On Thursday, November 5, Immigrant Suns set at the Bug Performance Center; Phillip Walker strokes his ax at Brendan's; and the Robyn E. Band burrows into the Catacombs in Boulder--the first of half a dozen area gigs for the band during this month. On Friday, November 6, Joe Louis Walker performs material from his latest recording, the impressive Preacher and the President, at the Casino, and Joanne Shenandoah gets back to nature at Unity Church of Boulder. On Saturday, November 7, the Damn Shambles wreck the Lion's Lair. And on Tuesday, November 10, Tom Zingaro and the Reals play for the benefit of recently injured singer-songwriter Tony Achilles at the Mercury Cafe; Joe C. Wail's Gang, Dame's Rocket, Love 45 and Mad Bastard play for the benefit of Euphony magazine at Cricket on the Hill; Beth Quist & ishWish celebrate the release of a new CD at the Fox Theatre; Sphere, featuring saxophonist Gary Bartz and pianist Kenny Barron, appear in the round at the Mount Vernon Country Club; and the Queers, a Westword profile subject ("Queer Power," February 5), take over the Bluebird Theater, with the Mr. T Experience and the Parasites. If it feels good, do it.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.